Nathaniel Mary Quinn's Lunch: the human form stripped back to its essence

A weekly Guide column in which we dissect the influences and interpretations of a work of art

Bringing home the Bacon …

The distorted features that make up 2020’s Lunch recall Francis Bacon’s anguished late self-portraits. The title is a riff on the depiction of lips, cheeks and noses as if they were butcher’s offcuts. Like Quinn, Bacon painted bodies as meat and described his own face as pudding.

Go with the flow …

Quinn’s collage-like paintings are created using materials including pastel, oil, gouache and charcoal. The artist transforms these into abstracted portraits, often channelling memories of the lost figures from his childhood in a housing project on Chicago’s South Side.

For the love of Mary …

Quinn’s life would change dramatically when a teacher helped him get a scholarship to a rural, private boarding school. During his first year, however, his mother, Mary, died. Then, shockingly, when he returned to Chicago at Thanksgiving, his father and brothers had vanished. Focusing on school seemed his only option, and before he graduated, he adopted his mother’s name.

Open wounds …

As with Bacon, Quinn’s disjointed, jarring creations suggest trauma, although the wounds the people in his past often endured were socially endemic, including addiction, gang culture and homelessness. Counter to Bacon’s existential horror, Quinn’s questioning paintings are subtly affirmative. The identities Quinn conjures are shifting and open-ended, refusing to settle into something that can be easily labelled.

Gagosian Davies Street, W1, to 21 Nov


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